Feature Photo: © Foto Mosca
Emergency operators at the Antonio Cardarelli hospital in Naples must have registered a sudden increase in reports of cardiac arrest last night, as the Partenopei took part in their umpteenth match in which they played the part of comeback marvels, this time in Serie A Round 2.
Napoli pulled off a memorable victory over a solid-looking Milan by following the lead of Professor Carlo Ancelotti, who (not without a hard slog) ultimately got the better of his erstwhile pupil Gennaro Gattuso on the opposition bench. From 0-2 down, Napoli lifted themselves and eventually reversed their fortunes.
It was a bittersweet Saturday night for the Rossoneri supporters, who visited Naples full of confidence, but eventually had to surrender to the experience and fortitude of a Partenopei squad which only three months ago ended the season on 91 points – a tally that is not to be sniffed at.
The Rossoneri had the better start, controlling a Neapolitan side that lacked ideas, as Giacomo Bonaventura put Milan in front and David Calabria doubled their lead.
Milan though suddenly turned into a Mr Hyde version to their earlier Dr Jekyll – and began to give way to Napoli’s spirited fight-back. A brace by Piotr Zielinski leveled the match, before Dries Mertens punished the Devils with the odd goal in five.
The match kicked-off in a surreal atmosphere which resembled a Giorgio De Chirico painting. Napoli fans stood in silence to show their solidarity with Genoa supporters, and as a gesture of sympathy for the victims of the Morandi Bridge collapse.
The San Paolo Stadium quickly turned into something closer to the San Siro Stadium when this mark of respect was complete, as the visiting supporters grew louder, a reminder of the days when Napoli and Milan battled each other for the Scudetto.
Despite a good start on the part of the Azzurri – who had two favorable chances through Allan Marques and Lorenzo Insigne – Milan got themselves in front in the 15th minute. Suso caught hold of a long-range pass from the Rossoneri defense, gained control of the ball, and crossed it from the right-hand side. Fabio Borini – deployed by Gattuso in place of disqualified Hakan Calhanoglu – knocked it on with a header, finding Jack Bonaventura poised to strike a wonderful volley. Milan’s number 5 saw off Raul Albiol before slotting the ball past debutant goalkeeper David Ospina. Mamma mia, what a goal!
The Milanese were on fire. The Azzurri side of the San Paolo meanwhile understood this and watched on in silence. It was a Spanish-style Milan, one would say, focused on ball control and short one-touch passes, which were incidentally the essence of their opponents’ sarrismo last season.
Napoli on the other hand looked slow, intimidated, and lacking in vitality until the last five minutes of the first half, when they finally started showing signs of life. José Callejon and Piotr Zielinski shot off target, then Arkadiusz Milik called Gianluigi Donnarumma to duty for the first time.
The second half began with the Rossoneri still largely in control, doubling their lead only four minutes after the restart. Gattuso’s eleven men strang together an impressive piece of play, making 28 consecutive passes on their way to scoring their second goal. Suso assisted Calabria perfectly, whose sharp low shot deflected off Kalidou Koulibaly, and beat Colombian Ospina for a second time.
As Neapolitan supporters plummeted towards a kind of football hell, the gray sky seemed to symbolize a night they would surely sooner forget.
But then the game turned on its head. Napoli conjured a spirit that was not yet extinguished and soon began to reduce their arrears – first through Zielinki. The Polish midfielder received the ball from Callejon, and struck confidently with his left foot – sending the ball beyond Donnarumma in the Milan goal.
The Partenopei’s game was in effect reset from here, while Milan began to fade in such a rapid way that should give Gattuso cause for concern. The Calabrian coach pulled off Lucas Biglia and sent in Timoué Bakayoko to refuel his midfield. Ancelotti countered this by switching to a 4-4-2 formation. Marek Hamsik, still not fully comfortable in his new position, was replaced by Dries Mertens to support Milik on the front lines. Insigne and Callejon meanwhile were asked to move to the wings. Just minutes later, Zielinski’s second drew Napoli level, this time his right foot doing the talking.
With Milan on their last legs, Ancelotti reworked his formation once more, sending in Amadou Diawara to replace Zielinski, and 21-year-old Sebastiano Luperto for the injured Mario Rui. Napoli moved to a 4-2-4, a formation Ancelotti had already tested in their summer friendly match against Wolfsburg. Gattuso answered this with a change of his own; Diego Laxalt replacing an exhausted Fabio Borini.
The match was within the Neapolitans’ grasp. In the 80th minute, Diawara found Allan on the right-hand side, the Brazilian proceeded to run the length of the flank before crossing the ball for Mertens on the opposite side. The Belgian only had to place the ball over the goal line, which he did comfortably before celebrating in front of his supporters in sector Curva B.
Gonzalo Higuain’s firing of the ball into the night sky, and Lorenzo Insigne’s failure to complete a counter-attacking move were the last actions of the game.
A resourceful but careless Napoli had come from behind to beat a Milan side who were brilliant for one hour only.
No matter how you look at it, both coaches have a lot to work on.
August 25, 2018 – Serie A 2018-19 Round 2
SCORERS: 15′ Bonaventura (M), 49′ Calabria (M), 53′ Zielinski (N), 67′ Zielinski (N), 80′ Mertens (N)
|NAPOLI (4-3-3): Ospina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Mario Rui (73’ Luperto); Allan, Hamsik (64’ Mertens), Zielinski (72’ Diawara); Callejon, Milik, Insigne (Karnezis, Malcuit, Maksimovic, Chiriches, Rog, Ounas, Verdi) Coach: Ancelotti|
|MILAN (4-3-3): G. Donnarumma; Calabria, Musacchio, Romagnoli, R. Rodriguez; Kessié, Biglia (58’ Bakayoko), Bonaventura (81’ Cutrone); Suso, Higuain, Borini (70′ Laxalt) (Reina, A. Donnarumma, Abate, Caldara, Simic, Mauri, Halilovic, Castillejo) Coach: Gattuso|
REFEREE: Mr. Valeri from Roma
NOTES: Attendance: 40000; Yellow Cards: Insigne, Koulibaly (N), Suso, R. Rodriguez (M); Extra Time: 1st Half 3′, 2nd Half 4′
Translated by Matteo Carnevale